My name is Kari, and I was born on August 13, 1993 in Clarion, Iowa to Kirk and Kim Disney. I weighed five pounds and nine ounces and at first glance, looked just like every other new born. After being fully examined by the doctor, I was taken to my parents, and they were told that while I was an extremely healthy baby, I had been born without my left-hand. With two sons already at home, and a beautiful, healthy girl in her arms, my mom claims that she barely understood what the doctor had told her in that moment. The fact that I was missing a part of my arm did not make my parents love me any less.
Later that night, I was transferred to the Iowa Methodist Neonatal unit in Des Moines for further observation, and it was concluded that I had no further birth defects or complications. The medical diagnosis was that I had a transverse arrest of my left arm or rather, my arm had simply quit developing below the elbow. Although my mother had several ultrasounds throughout her pregnancy, none of them had ever detected my limb deficiency. Afterwards, my parents went through genetic counseling in order to figure out if they had done anything wrong during the pregnancy, but to this day, we are still not exactly sure the scientific reason for my arm being underdeveloped.
When I was six months old, I was referred to Shriners Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota by our local Shriners organization. They evaluated me and informed my parents about options for a prosthesis. My doctor highly recommended a prosthesis that would help me with balancing and grasping objects throughout my toddler years. They also gave my parents a book, Harry and Willy and Carrothead by Judith Caseley which is about a boy who was born like me. My mom read this book to my class at school, which really helped my classmates understand my limb deficiency. Shriners has been a great atmosphere for my family. We have learned so much, not just from the doctors, but from the other children and families we met there as well.
I have tried different prosthetics throughout my life. At age four, I was given a cosmetic arm that was supposed to be identical to my right arm. I ended up only wearing this prosthesis for pictures, church, and special occasions at school. Shriners also allowed me to try out the myoelectric prosthesis, which I preferred and used constantly, up until I broke my arm doing a cartwheel on it. During my first year of high school, I tried another prosthesis that was made to help me play volleyball. While the prosthetic helped some and allowed me to play the sport, I kept getting injured. I took this as a sign that volleyball was just not my calling. Today, I have a weight lifting arm in order to strengthen my arm and body. While I understand that prosthetics are very helpful and a blessing for a lot of people, I honestly feel more normal without one.
Growing up, I was always competing with my two older brothers: Kyle and Kole. I remember wanting to learn how to tie my shoes, because I knew they already could. Every time my brothers put on their shoes, I would watch them and try to mimic their strategies. I remember them reciting the bunny ears method, and I had both of them show me how to do it. For a couple of days straight, I sat in our entry way amongst all of the family’s shoes practicing the bunny ears technique. My parents constantly asked me if I wanted help, but I was to determined to do it on my own. Because of my determination, I mastered shoe tying before I even entered preschool, making me the first kid in my class to know how to tie his or her shoes. Still to this day I am so proud of my accomplishment. If it was not for my older brothers, I think I would be lacking the sense of determination and drive I carry with me today. I am very grateful for both of them.
As I learned to do things on my own, my stub, the name we used to refer to the end of my arm, became my left hand. I would use my stub in the classroom to help me hold on to and cut objects. I used it to put up my hair and paint my fingernails. I even used it as a defense mechanism against my brothers when we were roughhousing. I feel very fortunate that I at least have my stub to help with these daily tasks. I was a very active in my childhood and pre-teen years even with a limb deficiency. My family was very encouraging, telling me I could do anything that I put my mind to. With their support, I was able to try many sports and activities including volleyball, basketball, softball, gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, and running.
It may seem that I lived a pretty normal life growing up, but as middle school and eventually high school hit, I started to struggle emotionally… with my looks, fairness in sports, and just accepting why God had chosen to give me a limb deficiency. I started to receive a lot of attention, some good, some bad. One time a curious little girl asked me what had happened to my arm, and I told her that God had made me this way. She asked if she could kiss it to make it all better… so I let her kiss my stub. I think she was a little disappointed when my arm did not grow back. Another time, I heard a little boy ask his mother what he could do to get an arm like mine. These moments made me smile and gave me courage. Other times, people were not as nice. I was called names, like “the one-armed girl,” and I’d catch people whispering and staring at me. I tried to stay strong, and not let others bring me down, but with each hurtful name and look, I grew weaker. I remember crying one night, asking my mom why this had to happen to me. My mom was of course, very comforting and told me that things happen for a reason and that the tough times will only make me into a stronger person. Even though I knew my mom was right, I was still greatly confused by my situation. God knew that I desperately needed help, and one day, I finally got the answer I was looking for.
I was in my sixth grade reading class, searching for a book to check out and take home. I randomly pulled a book off the shelf, only to see that the girl on the front cover was missing an arm just like me. The book was titled Soul Surfer, but I honestly had never heard of it before. After school that day, I started to read the book, and I loved it from page one. Each page of Bethany’s intriguing story kept me reading further and further along. By the time my parents got home from work, I was already half way through it. With eagerness, I remember running up to my parents and showing them the book I was reading about Bethany Hamilton. They both recognized her from the news, as the girl who was attacked by a shark. My parents and I looked her up on the Internet and read about her attack. Immediately, I was touched by her story. I could relate to so many things she addressed in her book like how others reacted to her having only one arm and the changes she had to make in daily tasks. After reading Bethany’s first book, I wanted to know more about her. My mom ordered me all of her books, including her documentary. Bethany instantly became my role model, making a huge impact on my faith in God and myself. The more I learned about her, the more I felt my faith growing stronger. I no longer blamed God when I hit a rough patch, because I found out through Bethany that blaming him did not get me anywhere. I have found peace knowing that God has amazing plans waiting for me just like he had for Bethany. All I have to do is open up and allow him to lead me.
Not only did Bethany’s story help me, it also helped my friends and family to understand all of the challenges I have been through. Specifically, one of my brothers called me directly after seeing the film. While crying, he told me how proud of me he was and that he loved me. This meant so much to me, because it was the first time he had ever spoken to me directly about it. He is my brother, someone who has known me my whole life, but it was not until hearing Bethany’s story that he was able to see the barriers I had overcome.
I am now a senior at Clarion-Goldfield, one semester short of graduating high school. I will admit that I still struggle sometimes. High school, although full of fun and growth for me, is still an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes I still find myself upset with the notion that nothing ever comes easy for me, at least not as easy as it was for my brothers and friends. I have had to work harder for all my accomplishments, but I am glad that my determination and hard work has helped shape me into the strong and dedicated person I am today. Like Bethany’s love for surfing, running has become my one, true passion, because as you might have guessed, you do not need two arms to run. I have often worried about the road ahead of me: life after graduation. But thanks to Bethany, I can better understand that God is and will be with me every step of the way.
Despite my limb deficiency, I have been blessed in so many ways. I have amazing friends, who instead of getting upset about all the whispers and stares, tend to create funny scenarios of how I lost part of my arm. Their kindness and humor have helped me get through some of the toughest times. I am so thankful for my coaches and teachers who have always encouraged me. I have an amazing religious youth leader this year, who continues to push me further in my faith. Most of all, I am thankful for my loving family who has always accepted me for who I am. My dad has always been my protector and my mom, my confidante, both reminding me of the bigger picture and showing their love for me daily. My brothers continue to push me and are always great for advice. My grandparents also play a huge role in my life, making sure that I know they love me and are extremely proud of me. I could not have asked for a better support group.
Since the day I first picked up Bethany Hamilton’s book, I have had someone that I can relate to. She has been my biggest role model, and I am extremely grateful for the many things she has taught me through her books and movies. My dream is to meet her someday and to thank her in person for helping me understand my situation and make the most of it. I hope in the future that I can impact others in the same way she has impacted me.